Iris Zuo
3 December 2021 0 Comments

In the wake of the pandemic, fitness and healthy eating have become an increasingly important part of life for Chinese people. Low-sugar and low-fat foods and beverages are as important as ever. 86% Chinese consumers have purchased healthy foods since Covid hit, compared with the global average of 68% according to Accenture. At the same time, both young and senior generations are consciously adjusting their diet structure, focusing on the intake of premium protein.

Although everything is moving in a positive direction, Chinese consumers still have a lot to learn about increasing their protein intake. Protein products, particularly whey protein, are considered the domain of athletes and gym goers. This sees whey protein products’ claims generally professional and educational, limiting awareness of the benefits from ordinary consumers and curbing opportunities for them to relate it to themselves.

This phenomenon is common in many categories, with many becoming popular as consumers became more aware of the benefits. When entering the China market, these categories are usually targeted to a specific demographic. However, as more and more people change their behaviour and preferences, the siloed audience sees these categories encounter bottlenecks. How to change the communication methods and broaden the audience is their current challenge.

China Skinny Team attended 2021 Glanbia Nutritional’s Sports and Lifestyle Nutrition Seminar in Shanghai to talk with industry experts and see the latest protein products and market trends. Glanbia is a globally-leading whey protein provider with operations in 32 countries and products distributed in over 130 countries.


Emerging Trend: Healthy snacking

Snacks help fill idle times with food.  81% of consumers snack for distraction, 78% of snacking is motivated by pleasure, while nourishment and optimization account for 57% and 54% respectively according to Glanbia.

With rising purchasing power and the increasing attention to health, Chinese consumers have begun to pay attention to the impact of leisurely snacking on their health. Sugar-less, calorie-free, high-quality raw materials are among the main needs for consumers. In the purchasing process, consumers have become more concerned about their snacks’ ingredients, effects and functions, especially those post-90s consumers in tier 1 and 2 cities.

The emergence of healthy snacks is largely the result of consumers looking for healthier snacking options. Busy lifestyles mean they cannot always eat when they should, or it can be due to high standards for themselves in managing their health. However, when they are hungry, they still want to eat healthy snacks to nourish their bodies.

There are some challenges to meet both nutritional and taste standards in the healthy snack market. Chinese consumers are extremely picky about the taste and texture of food, and foreign brands often fail to attract consumers due to more western tastes and less innovative product formats. So “how to cater to the Chinese stomach?” is a common challenge currently facing foreign brands.

At the seminar, we saw many special flavours and product formats tailored to Chinese consumers’ preferences, such as iced black tea protein drink, spicy protein bars, and even jelly protein drinks. A company doing this well, is domestic brand ffit8, using whey protein supplied by Glanbia.


ffit8 jelly format whey protein ice black tea whey protein
Left: Jelly format whey protein. Right: Whey Protein Drink – Ice Black Tea Flavour


Case Study: ffit8

Ffit8 was founded in 2019 with the brand concept of “FFIT ME WELL.” Like many healthy food brands, it targets China’s affluent and aware youth. Its main products are protein bars and probiotic protein powder. Just one year after launching, ffit8 generated revenue of ¥117 million ($18.4 million) and sold 10 million protein bars, topping the category. ffit8 notes that its secrets to success have been providing tastes that suit the Chinese palate and a communications strategy relevant to China’s youth.

Thanks to China’s well penetrated social media networks, ffit8’s young target audience eagerly researched and absorbed the knowledge they distributed. Young Chinese love to acquire or explore new information on their own, and a generally less interested in education or preaching from brands. Communicating with their target audience, rather than trying to educate them proved to be an effective strategy for young consumers.

In their messaging, ffit8 dials down the function of whey protein powder and focus on more on its qualities as a “healthy snack.” ffit8 adds whey protein products as a premium protein supplement to young people’s snack list quite subtly. As they said, “when young people want a cookie, we can give them a healthier cookie”.

In addition to the original chocolate flavour, ffit8 also has Japanese soy milk, salted egg yolk, creamy cheese, coconut, jasmine tea and other innovative flavours. ffit8 also recently introduced waffles which make whey protein products look more like snacks.


Key takeaway for foreign brands

As consumer behaviour and preferences are constantly changing, brands should take a more flexible and imaginative approach. Two seemingly contradictory concepts may one day combine well, just like snacks and health products. Blurring the boundaries of protein powder and thinking creatively to reach consumers, people will be surprised at how healthy and tasty the product is while trying it. With ffit8, we can see that brands should understand the lifestyle of users and look for a way to become a part of their daily routine. Trying to change consumers’ lifestyles may drive them away from your brands.

That is one piece of the puzzle for success in China. Contact China Skinny to find out how we help brands to find new breakthroughs and other strategies needed to win in the market.